I never thought that I would ever be a carer for an old person. I had always worked with children. Any colour, shape, size and age up to about 17, it didn’t matter, I loved them all!
Looking back, I never expected to return to the UK, let alone get into the business of caring. To be honest, it wasn’t my first choice of work, but there was so much need and so many jobs for carers, and zero need for my previous skills that were valid in the USA. So, I went on a course to be trained in caring and had some first-hand wake-up experiences when caring for a woman of my age with dementia. It was one of the saddest experiences of my life, and I bow down to those who care for people with dementia on a long-term basis – frankly, I don’t know how they do it.
My last experience caring for an old person who I was with when she left her body, was Sheila. Sheila was 86, not so old, but, as she told me 2 weeks before she died, she had “had enough of this old body dear, I am sorry, but I want to die now”.
I answered an ad in The Lady magazine and got an interview. I went to visit Sheila in her white-washed cottage in the countryside. Although she was quite deaf, somehow by looking into her eyes, and her into mine, something transpired, and so I was chosen out of the 3 carers applying for the job.
My shift was Friday 9 am through Monday 9 am that went on for over a year…then one of the other 2 carers left so I gave up weekends for weekdays. It was tough going from the start. Sheila was a master in controlling everything with hardly saying anything! She was very particular about how she liked things done. As time went on she started to have frequent OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) “attacks “. For instance, I would hear banging around in the kitchen at 1am, go downstairs to find pots and pans all over the kitchen floor. Sheila was not happy with the way we carers kept her kitchen, but after a while the senior carer had her” banned” from the kitchen because she ended up melting a pot on the stove that she had forgotten about. Luckily, the carer managed to put out the fire before it burnt the house down.
Gradually Sheila did less and less for herself and her body started to get sick. Ulcers on her legs, frequent stomach upsets with uncontrollable diarrhoea. And it was embarrassing and demoralising for Sheila. For me, I “watched myself” cleaning up poo of an old lady in tears. I never dreamed I could do that kind of thing, but when it came down to it, I just kept reminding myself how this could be me one day and how would I feel? So, one just gets on and does what’s needed. I was always conscious to be very gentle with her, again, treating her as I would want to be treated in her position. She noticed this of course, and one day thanked me for being so kind to her.
When I thought back to how controlling she was at first and how I had to “bite my tongue” often (and sometimes not) now we knew each other quite well and I realised my heart was open to her and I wanted to make her as happy as I could, sensing it wasn’t going to be for much longer. I also sensed that I was going to be the one with her when she was leaving her body, and it felt right that it would be me.
Being with an enlightened Master who spoke on death extensively, I knew how to be in those last moments of a person’s life. So, it happened on Sheila’s final night, the whole family were there to say their goodbyes and stayed until 2 am in the morning. Sheila was on heavy morphine, but I knew she was cognisant of what was going on around her even though, of course, she couldn’t speak. I mentioned to one or two of them to be aware that Sheila COULD hear what they were saying, so to be aware of this and be gentle when touching her and to speak softly… I felt very protective of her in those moments.
After the family had left (except her elder son who was staying in the guest room), all was quiet and I went to bed around 3am. I woke up at 7 am, and thought to myself – should I go and take a shower? No, came the answer, go and sit with Sheila…
I went into her room and quietly over to her and sat holding her hand. Her breathing was quite fast and intense. It was at this moment I said to her, “Sheila it’s a beautiful day outside, and if you are ready to leave this is a very good time to go, I will be here with you so there’s no need to be afraid, and if you see light, go to that light”. I also mentioned that she might see Henry (her deceased husband) waiting for her, as she loved him dearly and was always saying she hoped to meet him again when she died.
I moved away from the bed but sat close, after a few minutes her breathing totally changed, she seemed to relax, her breathing slowed right down….at 7.45am Sheila took her last breath and disappeared into the beyond very peacefully.
What a privilege it was to be present with Sheila while she was making her final transition from this life.
I will never forget the experience, and I feel much gratitude to her.
Thank you Sheila……